Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

The list of problems in the Milwaukee Public Schools – huge cuts in the teaching staff,  some of the lowest academic achievement rates in the nation, decreased state and federal aid – could fill a book. So why is the school board wasting our time and money to issue a resolution boycotting the State of Arizona?

Because when you don’t have answers to the real problems, you can at least do the “feel good” thing and maintain the image of doing something.

Arizona has run afoul of some across the country, including President Obama and his Justice Department, by passing SB1070. The law, which goes into effect in August, makes it a misdemeanor to be in the state of Arizona without legal documentation and gives local police the ability to detain people they “reasonably suspect” are in the country without papers. In addition, it allows citizens to sue local governments and agencies if they believe federal and state immigration laws are not being enforced.

MPS is set to pass a resolution this Thursday boycotting Arizona, after the Committee on Legislation, Rules and Policies approved a measure last week. This just six days after it sent pink slips to over 1,000 teachers, substitute teachers and classroom paraprofessionals. Authored by board member Larry Miller, the boycott blocks the purchase of products and services from Arizona and travel to the state.

If an Arizona-based company has denounced the state’s illegal immigration position, MPS can do business with them.

This boycott is similar to one passed by MATC in April and the City of Milwaukee in May. More than 50 other organizations are listed on the Arizona website as also boycotting or canceling events.

Miller called the Arizona law discriminatory and “a type of apartheid” against Latinos. He described how Latinos are rounded up, housed in tents, and forced to wear humiliating “Clean and Sober” T-shirts which he implied is law enforcement’s way of insinuating that Latinos are actually dirty and drunk.

“I’ve been told to focus on our low reading scores,” Miller said. “That has been my focus, but I care about children being in school and the content of what they are learning. We must stand up against these injustices in Arizona and Wisconsin. It won’t cost the taxpayers anything.”

There was a large crowd on hand at the public hearing, most in favor of the resolution.

MPS student Kelsey Kaufmann spoke in support. “We believe in equality and human rights, we are taught them in school and we opened the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. At the end we said ‘liberty and justice for all.’ Arizona’s law violates this.”

But others scolded the committee for even considering the measure.

“How in any way, shape or form is this helping this district out of the mess it is in,” asked Barb Mosley. “[The Arizona law] is about stopping illegal activity. Nobody is entitled to be here illegally. This is not about discrimination any more than if it were Canadians. It is about illegal activity no matter what the person’s nationality.”

Mosley, 21 people who e-mailed the board and the majority of Americans support Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration. The key word here is “illegal.” The Arizona law does nothing to infringe upon the rights of legal, law-abiding Hispanic and Latino citizens and residents.

Arizona, it appears, is doing what its citizens want. 70 percent of the state’s voters agree with the crackdown on illegal immigration, and yes, some of them are even concerned that U.S. citizens may have their civil rights violated in the process. But Arizonans are more concerned about the tide of illegal immigrants flowing into their state, violating the border with drug trafficking and using state medical and educational services.

Leaders in Washington D.C. have been fighting over what to do with the millions of illegal immigrants in the country for decades. Most politicians want to use some type of amnesty to allow undocumented workers already here to earn citizenship. But in Arizona, as a border state groaning under the weight of ever-increasing welfare rolls, keeping illegals out is the number one issue. So Arizona politicians took matters into their own hands.

MPS board members complain that the state of Wisconsin and the federal government are eroding local control of schools with mandates, legislation and veiled threats. However, they are quick to turn around and approve a resolution on Arizona’s local business, claiming a moral obligation to students everywhere.

Instead, they should turn their moral fortitude toward the children right down the street from their offices. They should be concerned about the ability of MPS students of all nationalities to read, do math and explain scientific facts. They should have used the time they spent discussing Arizona’s problems in search of ways to settle teacher contracts and put educators back in the classrooms.

And rather than waste more breath on the subject, the board should spend time finding alternative funding for art, music and gym teachers who have been torn from schools. The need here is immediate and couldn’t be closer to home: to demonstrate to Milwaukee taxpayers and parents, not that they feel it’s their place to take a political stand, but that they care as much about the 80,000 students attending MPS.

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